Following the drug’s legalization in Canada, there has been a significant increase in the number of children admitted to intensive care for unintentional cannabis poisonings.
In the first two years after cannabis legalization, researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto discovered a four-fold increase in unintentional poisonings in children under the age of 12 and a three-fold increase in intensive care admissions for severe cannabis poisoning.
When comparing the pre- and post-legalization periods, the overall number of visits per month for cannabis intoxications to the SickKids Emergency Department (ED) remained consistent. Clinical Toxicology, a peer-reviewed journal, published the findings.
The study compared cannabis-related ED visits, hospitalizations, and intensive care unit (ICU) admissions at SickKids during pre- and post-legalization periods to analyze the unintended consequences of the legislation, led by Dr. Yaron Finkelstein, Staff Physician, Paediatric Emergency Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology at SickKids.
“While cannabis intoxication is uncommon in adults, it can have serious consequences for young children, including behavioral changes, seizures, respiratory depression, coordination and balance problems, and even coma. As various cannabis formulations become legal, it is critical for everyone who has cannabis in their home to be aware of the potential harms to children and to ensure cannabis products are safely stored “Finkelstein, SickKids’ Senior Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences.
Measuring admissions for cannabis intoxication to SickKids over a 12-year period, from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2019, the study discovered that after legalization, a higher proportion of children were admitted to the ICU (13.6 percent vs. 4.7 percent , respectively).
The study determined that the rise in severe cannabis intoxications was primarily due to young children’s exposure to cannabis edibles, which have become increasingly accessible and popular. Because edible cannabis products are both highly concentrated and visually appealing to young children, ingestion is the most significant route of paediatric exposure. Inconsistencies and difficulties in determining the precise formulation and potency of the edible consumed can also make it difficult for health-care providers to predict the severity and duration of the effects of cannabis exposure.
The study team, which included researchers and trainees from across SickKids, hopes that by raising awareness of the potential dangers of unintentional cannabis poisonings, the findings will encourage the public to be even more cautious when storing cannabis products at home, particularly edibles, which are frequently mistaken for regular food and candy by children.
“Because the COVID-19 pandemic has provided more opportunities for families to stay at home, it is even more important to keep substances like cannabis out of the reach of young children. There are simple steps that everyone can take to help prevent unintentional poisonings and keep children safe, such as storing cannabis products in a locked container separate from other food and drinks “Finkelstein, who is also a Professor at the University of Toronto’s Departments of Paediatrics, Pharmacology, and Toxicology, adds.